Charles Sargent writes
I am travelling solo and would like to book a cruise around the Canary Islands on the Tui Discovery 2, departing on October 6. I travelled on this ship earlier in the year and really enjoyed the experience, especially as I was able to upgrade to a Deluxe Balcony cabin.
When I tried to book for the cruise in October, I discovered that I would be charged more than a couple would pay for the same cabin. Two people travelling together would pay just over £3,600 including flights. Yet as a solo traveller I would have to pay £4,100.
I accept – grudgingly – that I will have to pay for two flights but it seems very unfair to be charged an extra £500 over and above this simply because I’m travelling on my own. The Thomson agent said she did not know why but said that’s what the pricing system came up with.
I was told I had two options: find someone to share the cabin or book the cruise for two people and notify Thomson on arrival at the airport that the second person would not be travelling. She stressed that I must not do this beforehand. I did not want to lie or do things in this underhand way. Please can you find out why I am being penalised for travelling alone?
Gill Charlton replies
There are cheaper solo occupancy cabins on the Tui Discovery 2 but, as Mr Sargent discovered, these are in cabins on lower decks where he does not wish to be.
I asked Thomson why it was penalising solo travellers in this way. After all, Mr Sargent was already paying for a second unused flight that, presumably, Thomson could leave on sale.
A member of the director’s office staff contacted Mr Sargent to explain that the price discrepancy was due to a discount being offered to couples. Mr Sargent pointed out that as he was effectively being treated as a couple surely he was eligible for the discount, too. The Thomson agent said he would see what he could do but after a week he had still not got back in touch.
I nudged Thomson and, once again, Mr Sargent was told that the best way forward was to book for two and only alert the company that his companion couldn’t make it on the departure day. Once again, Mr Sargent asked why Thomson was asking him to lie.
An hour later, the agent called back to say he could, after all, have the cabin at the same price as a couple. In fact, the cost had now been reduced to £3,300.
I asked Thomson for a proper explanation, fully expecting it to spout that old chestnut about solo passengers spending less on drinks and excursions than couples – whereas the reality is that, as they are travelling alone, solos are more likely to be sociable joiners-in.
Thomson hasn’t come up with a convincing explanation for this pricing conundrum, but it has accepted that the issue exists. The company tells me that it will now review its booking processes for solo cruise passengers and provide further training for its customer service teams so that solo cruisers get fairer treatment.
That’s a good start, but what I would like to see is a time when solo cruisers only have to buy one flight as part of their package deal.
Three of the best cruise lines for solo travellers
The last bastion of big single supplements is the cruise industry, but that is changing. New ships are being built with a complement of single cabins; some cruise lines offer supplement-free double cabins to both early and late bookers as they struggle to match capacity with demand. There are sometimes get-togethers for singles, and restaurant managers can arrange singles tables. Here are some cruise lines that are making a big effort.
Fred Olsen (0845 004 2747; fredolsencruises.com) Has 40-plus single cabins on each of its four ships and good twin-for-sole-occupancy deals for late bookers.
NCL (0845 201 8900; ncl.co.uk) Led the way when it launched the Norwegian Epic in 2010 with 128 studio staterooms for singles (full-sized bed and bathroom) and access to a dedicated lounge and bar to interact with other solos
Pandaw Cruises (0208 326 5620; pandaw.com) No-supplement deals for singles occupying twin cabins (for early bookers and to sell last-minute spaces) on most departures of its luxury cruises on the rivers of south-east Asia.